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Inspiring in its simplicity and grand in its achievement. Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader. As a leader, I am tough on myself and I raise the standard for everybody; however, I am very caring because I want people to excel at what they are doing so that they can aspire to be me in the future." - Indra Nooyi in an interview with CNBC, June 2008.
Early Life and Beyond
Indra Nooyi, a woman deeply enrooted to her traditions, was born on October 22, 1955 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and India. Indra Nooyi spent her childhood in Chennai. Her father worked at the State Bank of Hyderabad and her grandfather was a district judge. She has done her graduation from Madras Christian College (MCC) in Chemistry, Physics and Math. She did her BSc. in Chemistry from Madras Christian College and subsequently earned a Master's Degree in Finance and Marketing from IIM Calcutta. Indra Nooyi also holds a Master's Degree in Public and Private Management from the Yale school of Management.
She remembers how her mother would, after meal every day used to ask Indra and her sister what would they like to become when they grew up. They would come up with different ideas and their mother would reward the best idea each day. It forced Indra to think and dream for herself. It was this dream that led her to be a part of the 11th batch of IIM Kolkata.
After two years of work with Johnson & Johnson and Mettur Beardsell in India, it was this fiery urge that took her to America in 1978, when she left India with barely any money to pursue a management degree from the prestigious Yale Graduate School of Management.
Starting off with Boston Consulting Group in 1980, she knew it would be harder work for her than others for two reasons - one, she was a woman and two; she wasn't an American but an outsider. She spent six years directing international corporate strategy projects at the Boston Consulting Group. Her clients ranged from textiles and consumer goods companies to retailers and specialty chemicals producers. Six years later, she joined Motorola in 1986 as the vice-president and director of corporate strategy & planning. She moved to Asea Brown Boveri in 1990 and spent four years as vice president (corporate strategy & planning). She was part of the top management team responsible for the company's U.S. business as well as its worldwide industrial businesses, generating about one-third of ABB's $30 billion in global sales.
An interesting tale surrounds her joining PepsiCo in 1994. At that time she also had an offer from General Electric, one of the world's best run companies under Jack Welch. The Pepsi CEO Wayne Callloway, in a bid to lure her, told her, "Jack Welch (GE's legendary boss) is the best CEO I know, and GE is probably the finest company. But I have a need for someone like you, and I would make PepsiCo a special place for you.'' Nooyi agreed.
Nooyi joined PepsiCo in 1994 and was named president and CFO in 2001. Nooyi has directed the company's global strategy for more than a decade and led PepsiCo's restructuring, including the 1997 divestiture of its restaurants into Tricon, now known as Yum! Brands. Nooyi also took the lead in the acquisition of Tropicana in 1998, and merger with Quaker Oats Company, which also brought Gatorade to PepsiCo. In 2007 she became the fifth CEO in PepsiCo's 44-year history.
Indra Nooyi is an entirely different kind of CEO, a product of her native India as well as of PepsiCo's family-values approach to grooming CEOs. She is not hung up on pay. She is not shy about asking for help when she needs it. She's in her fifties and does not plan for this job to be her last.
She was a young girl who was studying in Connecticut, while working as a receptionist from midnight to sunrise to earn money and struggled to put together US$50 to buy herself a western suit for her first job interview out of Yale, after completing her masters. Incidentally, she was not comfortable wearing a formal western outfit and ended up buying trousers that reached down only till her ankles. Rejected at the interview, she turned to her professor at the school who asked her what she would wear if she were to be in India. To her reply that it would be a sari, the professor advised her to "be yourself" and stick to what she was comfortable with. She wore a sari for her next interview. She got the job and has followed this philosophy for the rest of her career. She's been herself, never tried to change her basic beliefs, derived strength from her traditions and believed in who she is.
Performance with Purpose:
In 2006, Indra Nooyi became the fifth CEO of PepsiCo. As CEO, she continued to steer PepsiCo based on the vision of "Performance with Purpose."Â
As the markets were sloping for Beverages and snacks she implemented a number of measures to improve the sustainability of the company's operations and image by focusing on improvements in the health implications of PepsiCo products.Â
Measures such as removing trans-fats from PepsiCo snacks, product innovations in the Quaker Oats brand to come out with a range of consumer perceived healthy snacks, categorization of its snacks into three categories named fun for you, good for you, and better for you were undertaken under her leadership.
Nooyi's strategic measures to tackle the slow-down in the beverages and snack food industry included a productivity improvement program, the benefits of which were expected to the tune of US$ 1.2 billion over the next three years beginning 2009.Other measures under her leadership included aggressive expansion into the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, China, and India and product and process simplification across the organization.
PepsiCo: Extended Family
Indra Nooyi attributes a lot of Pepsi's success to its great employees. She believes that a company remains at its toes when there is a strong competitor, like Coke. She believes if you have no competition, a company will deteriorate. Nooyi has a unique formula that keeps her work-life balance. She feels that you must have an extended family at work to give you that balance. To keep a company running at top speed, you need to attract the best employees.
At PepsiCo she has ensured that employees actually balance life and work. She views PepsiCo as an extended family and everybody at the company is there to help in every way possible. Sometime ago, when Indra was traveling, her daughter would call the office to ask for permission to play Nintendo. The receptionist would know the routine and ask: "Have you finished your homework? Have you had your snack? OK, you can play Nintendo for half an hour". She then left a voice message for Indra saying "I gave Tara permission to play Nintendo". Unheard of in most corporations, it's a team Indra has built up at PepsiCo which knows each other so well.
A larger than Life Image:
Despite the monumental successes of her career, Indra Nooyi remains a characteristically an Indian woman who has combined the high-octane energy of her job with the calm, collected demeanor required to manage the responsibility of a mother and a wife. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Fairfax County, Connecticut.
If you wish to visit Ms Nooyi at her Connecticut home, always remember to take off your shoes before entering. If you do forget that, at least remember to take them off before entering the large puja room where a diya is lit and the inviting air of incense greets you. She always keeps an image of Ganesha in her office as a symbol of auspicious beginnings. Many PepsiCo officials who visited India received this Idol of Lord Ganesha and now keep images of Lord Ganesha in their offices.
Nooyi attends PepsiCo board meetings in a sari; for she believes the corporate world appreciates people who are genuine.
At work, Nooyi is in the pressure cooker world of intriguing business maneuvers and frenetic multi-million dollar moves but when she enters her home, it is like entering a sanctuary of calm. She says Carnatic music plays in their home 18 hours a day, and the feeling is much like being in a temple. Does she think her religious convictions help her to do a better job in the corporate world? "I don't know about a better job, but it certainly makes me calm," she says. "There are times when the stress is so incredible between office and home, trying to be a wife, mother, daughter-in-law and corporate executive. Then you close your eyes and think about a temple like Tirupati, and suddenly you feel 'Hey--I can take on the world.' Hinduism floats around you, and makes you feel somehow invincible.
On a perkier note, Indra is a God Fearing person. As quoted by her, "My family and my belief in God. If all else fails, I call my mother in India when she's there--and wake her up in the middle of the night--and she listens to me. And she probably promises God a visit to Tirupati!" Nooyi has always seen the world through the prism of her mother's faith and beliefs and calls her the guiding light in her life.
At the same time, there is an added side to her. Nooyi plays the electric guitar and sing popular tunes at office parties. Is it not a surprise to know that she was once a part of a part-time all-girl band? "It is a testament to her ability to balance a high-powered career with a family and her Hindu heritage,'' says Business Week. It is this creative streak and the ability to innovate that has inspired her to think out-of-the-box and create unorthodox methods.
Indra Nooyi is a devoted sports fan and in the past, has used videotapes of the final championship games Michael Jordan played for Chicago Bulls for their lessons on teamwork.
One can wonder how gets time to herself after having essayed different, demanding and versatile roles of executive, wife and mother throughout the day. She believes in putting whatever time she gets for herself into increasing her abilities. "That includes reading a book every day from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. To keep me being a real person,'' she says. To keep up, she is constantly trying to better her previous efforts. She believes you need to be constantly on the learning curve. Only then do you get better. She recalls what her parents taught her, "if you do a job, do it better than anybody else."
These are the values that Indra came to this country with - ones she banks upon till this day. Today, as Indra Nooyi stands apart as one of the most successful businesswomen in the world, she exemplifies the virtues of determination, perseverance, hard work, business acumen, tradition, simplicity and a genuine self - the very virtues that build her identity as much as apple pies, burgers, opportunities, dreams and Pepsi make America's.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY:
In an interview with BBC, Ms. Nooyi-one of only 15 women CEOs among the Fortune 500 and votedÂ Fortune's No. 1 Most Powerful Woman in business since 2006-said the emphasis needed to shift from just the shareholder to the stakeholder. "We can't separate Wall Street reform from Main Street because they are private corporations too â€¦ The debate right now is how do you change capitalism in total so that the emphasis is not just on the shareholder but on the stakeholder. The emphasis is not just on what happens within the company, but what happens sustainably, long term taking all of society into consideration," she said referring to the triple bottom line of corporate social responsibility.
Ms. Nooyi took the helm atÂ PepsiCoÂ Â in 2006, adding the role of Chairperson in 2007, just before the great recession enveloped us.Â In the last three years, the consumer products giant has introduced several sustainability initiatives domestically and globally including their Global Water Initiative and most recently, theirÂ Pepsi Refresh Project. This last initiative is particularly interesting since it attempts to use consumer engagement to decide what project gets the big bucks from Pepsi. Currently, there are 729 ideas up for voting, all submitted by the public and include small scale endeavors to global proposals. This initiative burrows deep into the ideology behind a socially responsible corporation.
Her emphasis on recognizing the importance of permeating sustainability through the organization as well as owning up to their role in spreading the message is well put.
Owning up to the mistake is the first step and her take on changing the image of the private sector is right on the money.Â "As a private industry, we all have to make our way back and say that corporations can be a force for good in society," she says touting the very disciple underlining corporate social responsibility: corporations have a duty to win back the public's trust and the only way they can do this (Attention: Wall Street) is by recognizing all the stakeholders and instilling CSR in their long-term strategy.
Indra Nooyi has always been a woman who had never backed down due to changeling circumstances.
At the time when Nooyi was looking out for summer jobs during her Yale years, she had no Business suits and could not afford one. So she ended up buying trousers way longer than the actual size and failed to get a job the first time. So she attended her next interview in a sari and her unusual attire did not seem to hold her back. This is a part of her which has made her the woman she is and what more she will achieve in the future.
Then we all know her journey started at Boston Consulting Group, then went on to Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri where she worked at strategic roles and held Top Management positions.
In 1994, Nooyi was looking for a new job and she landed two sought-after offers. One was at General Electric, and the other was with PepsiCo.Â She told PepsiCo's then-CEO Wayne Calloway that she wasin a dilemma as to which one to choose. He told her he thought General Electric was a great company, but he really needed her at PepsiCo, and he would make it a special place for her. Soon after Nooyi became PepsiCo's chief strategist. She was involved in the very highest level of planning for the company's future.Â
PepsiCo had long dogged rival Coca-Cola, but had evolved into a complicated business that reached beyond its flagship Pepsi drink. Nooyi spent months reviewing the economics of different parts of the PepsiCo Empire. She came to a surprising decision, which was that the company should shed its restaurant division. PepsiCo owned the fast food chains Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell. PepsiCo's CEO wanted to hold onto the division, but Nooyi insisted that the company would be better off without it. Finally, in 1997, she got her way. She then led the company to get rid of its bottling division, fearing it was a drag on PepsiCo's stock market valuation. Her next moves were the acquisition of the juice maker Tropicana and of the breakfast cereal and snack maker Quaker Oats.
The changes Nooyi made at PepsiCo transformed the company. Nooyi became PepsiCo's chief financial officer in 2000, and over the next year, the company's stock price rose almost 30 percent. Revenue increased about eight percent, and earnings went up by 13 percent. PepsiCo now had a strong grouping of well-known snack food and drink brands, with its addition of Quaker Oats and Tropicana. "For any part of the day we will have a little snack for you," boasted Nooyi toÂ Business Week.Â The company had long done well in suburban markets. It now hoped to grow in urban areas, which required a different marketing strategy. For this, Nooyi had to work closely with chief operating officer Steve Reinemund. Reinemund became chief executive of PepsiCo in 2001, and he promoted Nooyi to president. It was very important to Reinemund, a former Marine and apparently the quintessential buttoned-down businessman, to have Nooyi's more spontaneous personality and great analytical skills to balance his own insight into the future of the company. The two admittedly made an odd pair, characterized byÂ BusinessWeekÂ as "one of the most unusual management teams in Corporate America." But their opposite strengths seemed to do well for the company. Nooyi is seven years younger than Reinemund, and seems poised to become chief executive of PepsiCo at some point down the road.
Her father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you're angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don't get defensive. You don't scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, "Maybe they are saying something to me that I'm not hearing." So "assume positive intent" has been a huge piece of advice for me.Â
In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they're saying or assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, "Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they're reacting because they're hurt, upset, confused, or they don't understand what it is I've asked them to do." If you react from a negative perspective - because you didn't like the way they reacted - then it just becomes two negatives fighting each other. But when you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, "Hey, wait a minute, maybe I'm wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort."
Â She had always been the successful person she always wanted to be. Nooyi was always comfortable in her